There is no denying the extraordinary visual impact of Robert Wilson’s theatrical art. You need only look at the stunning tableau’s in the phantasmagorical forest that surrounds and defines The Byrd Hoffman Water Mill Foundation’s summer benefit. They are created by artists who flock to Wilson’s Artist in Residence and Summer Programs at the Watermill Center he created to nurture future generations in the type of interdisciplinary art he pioneered. Each year, the Foundation’s 10+ acres come to life with extraordinary theatrical and visual compositions in the spirit of the master. This year, the 26th Annual Watermill Center Summer Benefit & Auction was dubbed Tabula Rasa. And true to its name, I drew some blanks — and some original thoughts — as I looked for conceptual meanings behind the art.
“For me,” Wilson told Hamptons.com, “our theme of Tabula Rasa is about keeping things exciting, and having a constant progression of ideas through exploring new possibilities.”
“When thinking about Tabula Rasa, we began with the material notion of the blank slate — like a wall for writing,” observe Benefit Curators Noah Khoshbin and Ivan Cheng. “The past implies a silencing of voices and ideas, and we wanted to think of Tabula Rasa as an impossible structural counterpoint to that notion.”
The leit motife of nude bodies wrapped with cellophane, haunting apparitions that dotted the grounds suggested birthing, Campion Platt told us. A man with a gas mask crouched on sand in a small aquarium? Our future on this globally warming planet? “My daughter is an actress in one of these performances,” I heard someone say. “What does it mean?” I asked. “I have no idea,” she replied. Art, after all is a dialogue where we, too, must bring something to the table.
Meanwhile, we flocked to the small tables groaning with hors d’oeuvres, themselves art installations that took two servers to carry. A personal thank you to Wilson for the Robert Mondavi wine and high quality spirits.
Lush floral compositions by Playlab and Tony Piazza lined the entry. Strange creatures made haunting sounds atop a shed which housed whimsical mobiles and conceptual art. Dug deep in a gravelike hole, in the forest, someone bent over a guitar. We even saw Dorothy and the Tin Man.
The carved ancient looking oversized tablets that dotted the grounds seemed to evoke its Shinnecock ancestral heritage. “Look at these stones,” Wilson told us. “I collected them from all over the world.”
Wilson celebrates the stillness in beauty. At the main platform Jokubas Nosovas, a dancer from Lithuania stood completely still for 1 1/2 hours staring at the central building. Stina Force repeated beats in her Drumming and Singing Piece. “Three hours she’s been doing this,” Wilson told us. “The concentration is amazing.”
We asked Johan Bark, a theater producer and director about his two tableaus at the forest entrance. On one side, a man and woman chatted in a bed inside a plastic box. On the other, on a park bench. “It’s called Patterns,” Bark told us, “for behavior patterns. It’s the idea of taking an intimate setting and placing it in a public setting to see how does this juxtapose and interact with the surroundings.” This is Bark’s fifth year at Watermill. “The program runs for five weeks,” he told us. “But the gala is at the end of the second week. You propose your installations and usually get a green or red light a week before the party. So it all comes together, miraculously. I was here ’til 3:30 in the morning, yesterday, building and hanging lights. That’s the experience.”
His take on the theme? “Tabula Rasa, if you generalize, is the notion of how we adapt. A human being is born without any preconceived traits. So, ancestry biology, genes, in this particular theory has no place.” He pointed out a woolen wall made by a Greek sculptor, Maria Louizou. Behind it, participants sang a traditional Greek lamenting song. Taeyl Lim from South Korea, a choreographer wrapped head to toe in white interacted with a huge dice. Do we come into life as a blank slate, molded by chance, as a roll of the dice? “For me,” Bark said, “That performance is very abstract.”
Carrie Mae Weems and Katharine Rayner were honorees.
Benefit Co.Chairs were Shaikha Paula Al-Sabah, Kelly Behun & Jay Sugarman, Karolina Blaberg, Nicolas Bos, Madison Cox, Lisa & Sanford Ehrenkranz, Wendy & Roger Ferris, Laura & Michael Fisch, Anke & Jürgen Friedrich, Audrey & Martin D. Gruss, Philip Hilal, Calvin Klein, Alexandra Munroe & Robert Rosenkranz, Inga Maren Otto, Katharina Otto-Bernstein & Nathan Bernstein, May & Samuel Rudin Family Foundation, Inc, Louisa Stude Sarofim, Elizabeth Segerstrom, Christine Wächter-Campbell and William I. Campbell.
Who was there? Everyone from Wilbur Ross to Isabella Rossellini, including Lindsay Adelman, Rob Ashford, Maria (Pessino) Bacardi, Colin Bailey, Oliver Beer, Stella Bugbee, Bianca Casady (CocoRosie), Stuart Comer, Madison Cox, John Danilovich, Peter Duchin, Jennifer Esposito, Elena Frampton, Peter Gregory and Jamee Gregory, Ralph Gibson, Thelma Golden, Ron Guttman, Jeanette Hayes, David Haskell, Anne Hearst and Jay McInerney, Leila Heller, Sally Hershberger, Philip Hilal, Maja Hoffmann, Jacquelyn Jablonski, Yung Jake, Johanna Keimeyer, David Kratz, Steven F. Lane, Luann de Lesseps, Damian and Zoya Loeb, Peter Marino, Christopher Makos, Raymond McGuire, Nicole Miller, Maxwell Osborne, Katharina Otto-Bernstein & Nathan Bernstein, Tripoli Patterson, Lisa and Richard Perry, Simon de Pury, Bill Powers, Polina Proshkina, Othon Prounis and Kathy Prounis, Katharine Rayner, Brett Robinson, Kevin Ryan, Elisa Santisi, Jacqueline Schnabel, Hamed Sinno, Anastasiya Siro, Lucien Smith, Alexander Soros, Axel Stawski, Philip Tinari, Alexander & Lisa Vreeland, Prince Dmitri of Yugoslavia, and Jorn Weisbrodt,
Van Cleef & Arpels was the presenting sponsor and supporting sponsors were Acqua Panna Natural Spring Water, Diageo, illycaffè, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, S.Pellegrino Natural Mineral Water, Peroni Nastro Azzuro, and Perrier Sparkling Natural Mineral Water.
Let’s not forget the funders Cowles Charitable Trust, Cultural Services of the French Embassy of the United States, Donald A. Pels Charitable Trust, Dr. Lee MacCormick Edwards Charitable Foundation, Foundation Agnès B., Maxine and Stuart Frankel Foundation for Art, JAF Foundation, Jerome Robbins Foundation, Juliet Lea Hillman Simonds Foundation, Robert Lehman Foundation, LLWW Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, The Nightingale Code Foundation, mediaThe foundation Inc., Red Butterfly Foundation, May & Samuel Rudin Family Foundation, Suffolk County Office of Economic Development, Suffolk County Office of Film and Cultural Affairs, Leila & Mickey Straus Family Charitable Fund, Town of Southampton, and Trust for Mutual Understanding.
Other participating artists included former Watermill Artists-in-Residence Gillian Walsh, Ximena Garnica and Shige Moriya | LEIMAY, and the Daxophone Consort with Daniel Fishkin, Cleek Schrey and Ron Shalom. Other presenting artists include Graciela Sacco, Lance de los Reyes, Billy Bultheel and Alexander Iezzi, Stina Fors, Özgür Kar, Jacky Connolly, Jay Tan, Naufus Ramirez Figueroa, and Megan May Daalder.
Like life itself, meaning or meaningless, Watermill is a gas. For the time being, you can leave your gas mask at home.
The Watermill Center is located at 39 Water Mill Towd Road. For more information, visit www.watermillcenter.org.